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Unmasking Maskirovka: Russia’s Cyber Influence Operations – OODA Network Expert Book Review

Unmasking Maskirovka: Russia’s Cyber Influence Operations examines Russian ‘Information Operations’ (InfoOps) as a tool of strategic influence.  This exploration is timely and relevant given the Russian assault on the American electoral process in the 2016 Presidential election—especially since the long-range implications are still being assessed.

What we do know is that InfoOps open new avenues for achieving geo-political/strategic objectives. The Russians are at the forefront of exploiting cyber means and intrigue—others will surely follow. Dan Bagge, a Czech analyst who serves as Cyber Attaché to the United States and Canada, studied at the George C. Marshall Center in Germany and has advised NATO and USCYBERCOM on information warfare, InfoOps, and cybersecurity.  He provides a salient analysis of Russian cyber doctrine, TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures), and threats encountered in the Russian quest for information superiority and psychological dominance of the strategic realm.

Reflexive Control, Disruption, and Deception

The information sphere in general and ICT (information and communications superiority) in particular are a means of achieving strategic advantage.  For the Russians—early adopters of this approach and others—ICT offers both threats and advantages.  Bagge’s analysis assesses Russian perceptions of ‘reflexive control’—that is “modeling decision-making systems, understanding them and eventually disrupting them.”(p. 52) Here the aim is influencing the OPFOR (opposing force or opposition) into making decisions adverse to their own interest and that favor the ‘deceiver’ or ‘manipulator ’conducting the ‘influence’ operation.

Disruption and deception is key.  Indeed, Russian ‘cyber power’ relies upon a long tradition of deception and ‘agitprop’ where contemporary ICT invasions, deception campaigns, and ultimately information superiority shape the information environment.

Conclusion

Unmasking Maskirovka is well researched, provides a theoretical foundation on ‘reflexive control,’ and uses case studies of cyber operations (attacks and InfoOps) in the Crimea and East Ukraine Campaigns to illustrate the cyber dimensions of contemporary ‘hybrid warfare.’

Cyberspace has become a critical component of military decision-making. Unmasking Maskirovka shows how the Russians view InfoOps and how influence operations, deception, and disruption, as well as cyber dominance are core elements of Russian defense doctrine.  Influencing the OPFOR’s decision-cycle through deception and exerting ‘reflexive control’—known as  maskirovka (маскировка), literally ‘disguise’—is key to dominating cyberspace in the Russian view.

Bagge’s short but trenchant analysis (207 substitutive pages with references) provides insight into this increasingly (in)visible dimension of conflict.

Daniel P. Bagge, Unmasking Maskirovka: Russia’s Cyber Influence Operations. New York: Defense Press, 2019 [ISBN: 0578451425, paper, 251 pages]

John P. Sullivan

John P. Sullivan

Dr. John P. Sullivan served as a lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department; specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism and intelligence. He is an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy - University of Southern California, Senior El Centro Fellow at Small Wars Journal, and Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Global Observatory of Transnational Criminal Networks. His doctoral dissertation at the Open University of Catalonia examined the impact of transnational crime on sovereignty. His current research focus is terrorism, transnational gangs and organized crime, conflict disaster, intelligence studies, post-conflict policing, sovereignty and urban operations.